By Ann McCreary

The Bear Fight Institute and director Thomas McCord have been selected to participate in NASA’s planned mission to Europa, a moon of Jupiter.

The mission will conduct detailed reconnaissance of Europa, investigating a liquid water ocean below Europa’s thin icy crust to determine whether it might be suitable for some forms of life. The mission would be launched in the 2020s and reach the Jupiter system several years later.

The Bear Fight Institute, a planetary research center near Winthrop, works with NASA and its Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in California to analyze the surface composition of planetary bodies in our solar system and determine what this reveals about their origin and evolution.

Bear Fight uses spacecraft to bring infrared spectrometers close to planets, satellites, asteroids and comets to determine the minerals and molecules that compose them.

Scientists from Bear Fight will be part of a team of nine scientists participating in an investigation called Mapping Imaging Spectrometer for Europa (MISE). The project will develop an instrument that will probe the composition of Europa, identifying and mapping the distribution of organics, salts, acid hydrates, water ice phases, and other materials to determine the nature of Europa’s sub-surface ocean.

Bear Fight researchers will help design MISE, planning its operation and measurements and analyzing returned data. The work will take place at JPL, where the instrument will be constructed, and at Bear Fight Institute, where data and other information will be processed and analyzed.

Scientists at NASA believe that Europa, which is about the size of Earth’s moon, could be the best place in the solar system to look for present day life beyond our home planet.

NASA invited researchers last year to submit proposals for instruments to study Europa. NASA received 33 proposals and selected nine for the mission.

The principal and deputy leaders of MISE are Diana Blaney of JPL and Charles Hibbitts of Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory, both former graduate students of McCord’s. Another member of the team is also a former student of McCord’s.

McCord has worked with NASA and JPL for nearly 20 years to plan this mission after his role in producing the first results from the Galileo Mission to Jupiter, which discovered the ocean beneath Europa’s crust.

Jean-Philippe Combe, also of Bear Fight, participated in the mission planning over the past several years to help specify and justify the instrument’s characteristics.